A coalition of major US sports betting operators is publicly opposing the upcoming California sports betting initiatives.
FanDuel Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook, Fanatics Sportsbook and BetMGM (the four members of the Sports Betting Alliance), oppose the efforts of proponents Kasey Thompson, Reeve Collins and Ryan Tyler Walz, a spokesperson for the SBA told LSR Tuesday.
The signature-gathering effort to get the California sports betting initiatives on the November ballot was set to begin last weekend.
“We recently learned that the authors of two sports wagering initiatives in California are trying to find financial support for signature gathering from sports betting operators,” SBA spokesperson Nathan Click told LSR. “In the interest of clarity, and consistent with our previously stated opposition to these measures, we can commit that SBA won’t be funding or otherwise supporting either of these sports wagering initiatives.”
Why oppose California sports betting
In a series of quotes, Click provided LSR with a list of three reasons for the SBA’s opposition:
- “Without significant and widespread tribal support this initiative fails and sets back productive conversations for several years.”
- Thompson has received public support from a small faction of tribes and he believes that number will increase, he told LSR. However, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA), which includes the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, has repeatedly opposed the initiatives.
- “The original premise of building a business based off customers acquired illegally through offshore operations falls significantly short of the regulatory standards to which our membership adheres.” Thompson had explained that his plan was to give tribes ownership of the state’s illegal sports betting operators.
- “We’re going to take those illegal assets that operate in California today, companies that are worth billions,” Thompson told PlayUSA. “And they’re going to be owned, with no bad actors, completely cleared, all the technology, front and back, handed to these tribes with ownership papers, lock, stock and barrel. This will clean up the entire illegal black market that plagues the state.”
- “Further, this initiative is constructed to prevent the market from reaching anything close to its potential to the detriment of all stakeholders — commercial operators, Californians, gaming and RSTF tribes — while enabling the unregulated illegal market to continue to thrive.”
CA sports betting backer responds
Thompson sent a statement responding to the SBA move:
“That is natural for (SBA) to come out against as we are the most tribal initiative ever that puts 100% ownership and control in tribal hands. I have not asked any of those companies for a nickel.
“… There is no mention of anything inappropriate in the bill … I think they do not see majority public tribal support, but would get behind a mobile bill like this if they did.”
Alignment between tribes, operators?
In 2022, tensions escalated between major gaming tribes and commercial operators over Proposition 27, a measure backed by FanDuel and DraftKings to open the California sports betting market. The gaming tribes ultimately emerged victorious in the battle. Prop 27, which would have legalized online sports betting, received just 18% of the vote.
California sports betting still seems a longshot to pass in 2024, assuming it even gets on the ballot.
Still, SBA and CNIGA being on the same side could create a pathway toward a more productive effort in 2026.
FanDuel attempting to repair relations
In recent months, FanDuel has begun repairing its relationship with the tribes, both via outreach and new personnel.
“FanDuel has been more amenable to reach out to a number of tribes,” CNIGA chairman James Siva told LSR in September.
Recently, the operator hired two experienced executives with ties to the San Manuel, attempting to further bolster tribal relationships. Rikki Tanenbaum, who served as the chief operating officer for San Manuel, was named senior vice president of strategic partnerships.
Frank Sizemore, who spent seven years with San Manuel (while consulting for other tribes last year,) was named vice president of strategic partnerships.
California sports betting talks to come
There will be significant discussions about the future of California sports betting and gaming at the All-Tribes Meeting on Jan. 30 in Sacramento.
Meanwhile, San Manuel continues to monitor the situation.
“They’ve got a tough roadmap to get on the ballot, so we’ll see,” Dan Little, chief intergovernmental affairs officer for San Manuel, told LSR last week. “They did utilize some of the language that San Manuel wrote two years ago, but they’ve changed it. And some of the changes have raised some concerns, the elimination of the in-person registration and they’re kind of opening it up to the commercial industry.
“Some of the other changes are not so bad. The increased funding for the RSTF will be helpful. So we’re just going to continue to monitor it and see where it goes if they’re able to qualify, understanding they’ve got a very short timeframe here.”